Everyone’s doing round ups of the best books of 2020, this is particularly hard for me because it underpins the vast chasm in not just the way the world was at this point one year ago but also how my world fell apart last year and my blogging and reading fell to the wayside.
Whilst I am on the mend in all aspects it hurts to think of the positivity and ambition that was lost over the year.
However, I must give books credit for helping me out of that hole (along with Animal Crossing and Sewing) and so here I give thanks to the books that lifted me, gave me fire- the lifelines of 2020.
A book reminding of kindness
This is both an inspiring and thrilling book that swept me away but this book has an added glow because Nizrana personally was a light for me in early 2020.
Regular readers and especially my Twitter friends may know that I am painfully shy. To the point where I haven’t attended many events because I’m so painfully shy (a special shout out to Erin of my bookshelves are full and her daughter for taking pity on my wobbly self at the Little Tiger Discovery Museum day and Galina Varese, Sophie Anderson and Candy Gourlay for their wonderful event both in 19)
Nizrana invited me to her book launch in London and I was so excited to celebrate her work, I even bought a dress but to my absolute dismay I was too poorly to attend, but that inclusion meant so very much.
Books that spoke to me of nature & reminded me I’m not alone
Where the World Turns Wild– Nicola Penfold (Little Tiger Press)
This is a book that I wholeheartedly LOVE. It is pretty much wonderful perfection for me and in light of the events of 2020 a ethical and philosophical exercise but in a gentle and hopeful way as much as dystopian.
This book despite the struggles, despite the cold realities and the portentous moments is filled with hope and gumption. Underpinning and uplifting that despite the way the world presents itself through conformity and media that there are others who think, feel and hope like I do, that there can be a better world and nature must be respected as part of it.
DarkWhispers Vashti Hardy (Scholastic)
Dark Whispers is an intensely brilliant follow up to Brightstorm following an adventure to rescue an intrepid missing adventurer and just how far people will go to protect what is precious.
With imperial, colonial and conservationist themes Vashti challenges us to directly inspect our politics and society for where we stand on these issues within a thrilling and immersive narrative and deeply imagined landscapes.
I continue to be stunned by Vashti’s art and imagination that manages to wrap such potent social questions and issues within marvellous storytelling.
The Creature Keeper Damaris Young (Scholastic)
Damaris’ debut The Switching Hour is a book that floored me for its power, the Labyrinth meets Stranger Things feel of female grit and determination.
That grit is still present in The Creature Keeper but it is now turned to discuss the ethics of keeping wild animals, the wonder of nature and its fragility.
This quasi historical world with magic and wonder wrapped up within the closed off walls of Direspire Hall has a ‘nobody ever goes in, nobody ever comes out’ Willa Wonkaesque feel but with a strong conservationist message and questioning what it is we are trying to ‘keep’ when we cage wild animals.
Beautiful book that still makes me think and learn something new every time I turn it over in my mind.
Books that reawoke the magic
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency -LD Lapinski (Hachette)
L.D Lapinski ASTONISHED me with their debut of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, a beautifully wrought deeply intricate and highly imaginative world with a cracking sense of humour underneath it all.
This book made me feel like a little child again discovering the idea of a wardrobe into Narnia, feeling like I was reading my first Terry Pratchett and discovering who would become lifelong friends for the first time, it made me feel that burst of hope in your chest when you clap and scream ‘I do believe in faeries’ to save Tinkerbell because you really do believe your voice can, it made me feel alive and believe, utterly believe in the magic.
Thank you for bringing me hope and faith in magic again.
AAAAAAAAND I’ve seen a tutorial for making mini but usable suitcases…. I may be brave!!!
Moonchild Voyage of the Lost and Found- Aisha Bushby (Egmont)
A truly outstanding book layered with imagination and oral storytelling that is utter perfection for a fan of folklore, traditional tales and interestingly Studio Ghibli like myself.
This is a book that hit me so hard in the soul that it’s one that I hope becomes a classic, it’s one I hope to read with my girls sharing the magic and wonder and keeping that beautiful belief just a smidgen longer.
Wilde– Eloise Williams (Firefly Press)
Ok you may have figured out I’m a sucker for a witch book but this one got me deep in the feels.
Wilde is magic and earthy and a heartfelt tale of belonging, of yearning, of unfurling and blossoming in the unforgiving heat of summer, judging minds and unkind thoughts of others until our true selves burst forth into the world wild, untamed, joyous like birdsong.
Books like Wilde give me hope, give me life, resonate.
Orphans of the Tide– Struan Murray (Puffin)
This is world that blew me away, it’s darkness it’s world building intensely layered and intricate and with a taste of salt spray, claustrophobia and insane fervour throughout.
It made me think more on the kinds of worlds that are created and how drawn to darkness children are, as indeed I was and I see Littlefae like the thrill of vampires and such and how much the darker side of life can illuminate the human soul.
Books of the heart pain
The House of One Hundred Clocks – AM Howell (Usborne) AND Starfell 2: Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale by Dominique Valente (HarperCollins)
Grief is always a topic which I struggle with in books, not in a ‘don’t want to read manner’ but because it opens up boxes that I neatly packed away but still tumble out of the messy cupboard in my mind.
I find these two books to be up there with The House with Chicken Legs of real, powerful and beautiful rendering of coping and moving through unresolved grief (even years later.) in a positive and hopeful manner.
This book helped me on a journey of rewiring myself that THWCL really began and I’m in indebted to AM Howell and Dominique Valente for that healing.
Books that made with think, learn and grow
The House of Hidden Wonders– Sharon Gosling (Little Tiger Press)
It’s no secret I adore Sharon’s writing so I was so excited to read her Victorian set mystery which was both a thrilling and sobering read into the real life experiences of working class people in Victorian Edinburgh.
Impeccably researched and weaving in the real personalities of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr Sophia Jex-Blake and the world of this period the growth of belief in Theosophy, the popularity of Treasure seeking adventurers and the abject poverty lying underneath the splendour of a city reaching for glory.
I love a book that makes me think, gives me pause to learn and grow- this is definitely a book that did those things.
Troofriend-Kirsty Applebaum (Nosy Crow)
Kirsty never fails to astound me. I’m not particularly sci-fi reader but when I saw she had tackled the genre I had to give it a go because of how in The Middler she turned the YA Dystopian ‘chosen one’ trope into a MG quiet, introspective act of resistance.
And turning her hand to sentient robots in this Black Mirror meets Pinocchio treatise of ethics, parenting and what it means to be alive.
Thank you Kirsty for constantly pushing boundaries and challenging me, the courage to step outside my comfort zone of reading and find something new.
Girl 38: Finding a Friend Ewa Jozefkowicz (Zephyr 2020 paperback issue)
This is such a powerful book for adults to read as much as children and one that made my mum sob.
This dual narrative tale of a girl struggling to adapt not just to secondary school but to the terrible devolution of friendship and the tale of a girl in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe determined to move heaven and earth to find her friend.
Exploring the concepts and qualities of true friendship juxtaposed against the toxic and tentatively moving towards the idea that it’s better to release and move on and hope to find your true people than to dislike what you become to keep a ‘friend’
I know it’s stupid but I still have to listen to that advice sometimes, I was horrendously bullied in school by my so called friends and changed myself so much to ‘fit in’ (ha! Like that ever worked!) I’m still in the process of uncovering who I really am years later and still fall into old traps of trying to ‘fit in’ with new people and it’s encouraging to know that it’s ok to be weird, and it’s ok to let go of people who don’t fit me or help me grow- and how I have found true companionship in the Bookish community.
Ghoul Scouts– Taylor Dolan (Guppy Books)
I adore this book from Taylor Dolan, I love the summer camp feel that brings together a range of girls with different challenges, difficulties and disabilities from selective mutism to limb differences and shows them that they are beautiful and wonderful just as they are. That it’s ok to be a square peg in a field of round holes, it’s what’s inside that counts and standing up for each other’s beautiful differences is more valuable than hurting oneself and others to ‘fit in’.
Beautiful beautiful beautiful on so many levels, but particular so for children who are different from the peers in one way or another.
Crater Lake– Jennifer Killick (Firefly Press)
Jennifer blew me away completely with Crater Lake and it’s an absolute travesty that it is such a hard book to find other than through the publisher or The river that shall not be named. Waterstones needs to pull their finger out.
This pulls you in like a cinematic masterpiece, a slick Netflix funded thriller but with a playful and gritty British feel and Jennifer has a gift for writing boys, especially those who are gutsy, a little offbeat but with courage of heart and mind.
Books that brought joy and mirth
The super miraculous adventures of Freddie Yates– Jenny Pearson (Usborne)
This book frames in my mind as the British Stand by Me, the same deep and emotional coming of age journey saga but with an unmistakable British humour involving lots of silliness and mess ups.
This tale of three friends sneaking off to have an adventure finding one boy’s birth father and in doing so avoid their own problems is laced with heart and humour, pain and joy and is a beautiful testament to the heart of the young boy- showing vulnerability and courage, a powerful combination not always apparent in representations of the age.
Sticky Pines – Dashe Roberts (Nosy Crow)
Oh my I love these books. Dashe has a light hearted way of writing yet it deals with complex plots and rich themes and never fails to raise a smile for me.
Bigfoot Conspiracy and Black Hole Lake have been joyful escapism and absolute indulgence of the weird and wonderful oddity in me, lover of spooky and cult tv.
And these two, the most soulshifting books of my year:
A Kind of a Spark Elle Mc Nicoll (Knights Of)
The book I longed for and a book that had a profound effect on my soul and really opened my mind to the reality that I had danced at the edge of for sometime.
I’m not weird, I believe I may be neurodiverse- all the things that made me different from other children may have been due to autism rather than being a weirdo oddity who couldn’t fit in and exhausted herself daily trying to mimic others so hard.
Hold Back The Tide– Melinda Salisbury (Scholastic)
I read this at my lowest point this year and Melinda changed my course and replotted my stars.
It is an utter crime that this book has been a victim of the pandemic as it is so utterly breathtaking and thrilling.
Melinda made my pulse race for good, my heart beat for the story, my tears fall for her creations. Thank you thank you thank you for bringing me to life.
If your book or your favourite book is not on this list nil desperandum!
There are MANY fun, brilliant, powerful and important books I’ve read this year, many by favourite authors, many by new and many with my daughters but these are the ones that hold an extra special place.
There are also regrettably many more that I haven’t yet read 🙈or been able to get hold of that I hope to read in 2021, I hope that you stay with me as I discover those stories and find my way again.